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Tuesday, 18 February 2014 12:00 AM

Food on a Morocco Holiday - History of Cuisine in Morocco

Every holiday maker is different - what is an exciting adventure for one is something to worry about for another, and the issues around food can be the some of the most significant. Whilst the Naturally Morocco team and I love Moroccan cooking, we understand that others might have some trepidation about what they will encounter before they travel, so I will try to give you some background to ease your mind if you are concerned.

Moroccan cuisine is synonymous with tagine, but to limit your thoughts to such would be a great disservice to what is a broad and fabulous gastronomic heritage and culture. In later articles I will explore the range of traditional dishes that you are likely to encounter during your holiday in Morocco, and the local fresh ingredients that Moroccans use.

If you are interested in exploring this further, try a cookery lesson during your holiday.

Arab, Berber, Jewish, African and French traditions

Moroccan cuisine draws from a wide range of influences, being at the junction of many cultures – Berber and African, through to African and Middle Eastern and finally to Moorish and French – all put into a melting pot over hundreds of years to create a distinct style and taste of its own, based on home grown produce with clever seasoning.

The Berber tribes of Morocco, the indigenous population of the region, developed dishes based on the local ingredients (lamb/ mutton or poultry, some vegetables, some dairy, some spices, oranges and lemons, and almonds, olives, dates and figs) that complimented and enhanced each other, and were typically cooked as a stew in a single pot – a basic style that remains to the modern day in the form of tajines. Berber cuisine included couscous, which also remains in everyday use in Morocco today.

In the 7th century the Arabs conquered most of the Maghreb, which includes modern Morocco, and introduced their staple ingredients from Persia to the local population – new breads, foods made from grains, nuts and dried fruit and new spices (including ginger, cumin, paprika, cinnamon, turmeric and saffron) – and introduced their method of sweet and sour cooking such as used in the classic lamb and date tajine today.

Further additions to the table came from the Moors as they were driven out from the Andalusia region of southern Spain in around the 15th century. They brought with them certain dishes including the pastilla (pastry dish – historically a pigeon pie), and introduced or reinforced the use of olives, olive oils, tomatoes, citrus fruit, herbs, salt and pepper. The Jewish-Moors also introduced preserving techniques, with are commonly used today for lemons and pickles.

The brief incursion by the Ottomans in the latter half of the 16th century is thought to have introduced kebabs (shish kebab, skewered barbequed meat) to Morocco.

Finally, certain reminders of the period of the French protectorate exist in modern Morocco, most obviously wine, croissants, pain au chocolate and other boulangerie specials, and also the café culture that is so popular in all Moroccan cities and towns today.

From these influences, the cooks of the royal kitchens in the Imperial cities of Fez, Meknes, Rabat and Marrakech (and also of Tetouan) developed the Moroccan cuisine of today that is popular with chefs throughout the world.